Siegfried Aikman not available to coach India for now, doesn't rule out future possibility

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As soon as Graham Reid made it clear that he won't continue as Team India coach, after an early exit from the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup, many experts saw Dutchman Siegfried Aikman taking over. But for now, the latter has put a rest to all speculation by saying he 'is not a candidate'.

There's a lot that seems to have happened at the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup 2023 in Odisha, on the pitch, as well as off it which has caught everyone's attention. Veteran coach Siegfried Aikman was in India for the tournament despite his team, Pakistan, not qualifying for the mega event; he was just there to watch the matches. But don't be surprised. It is a well-known fact that all's not well between the Pakistan Hockey Federation and the coach, since the latter has not been paid remuneration for over 10 months now, which propelled Aikman to leave Pakistan sometime in December.

Then there was the Indian team, which unfortunately failed to make it to the quarterfinals despite playing decent hockey. While the team was still playing its classification matches, it was pretty evident that former coach Graham Reid's days were numbered, and he wasn't going to be around for long, be it his own decision or someone else's. With these events coinciding -- Aikman being in India and Reid's resignation -- it was only a matter of time before the Dutchman's name was thrown around to take up the India job. But for now, Aikman, who is still Pakistan's coach despite all the issues that have surfaced, has assured that he has not been approached by Hockey India for the coach's post, nor has he applied for it. 

Having said that, the 63-year-old, who coached Japan to an Asian Games gold medal, is open to coaching India in the future, when he is free. "Hockey India didn’t approach me at all. I am at the moment not available because I’m still the coach of Pakistan but if I part ways it is because they are unable to pay me. I am a professional and I deliver professional services. They haven't paid me for 10 months, so soon I have to make a decision if I will continue or not.

"There would be no one who wouldn't want to coach India, so when I'm free and an offer comes, I would be open. But that is not the case at the moment. It is a no-discussion, I am not even a candidate. I’m busy with Pakistan and everybody knows about the problems, and that’s the situation at the moment," Aikman told SportsCafe. Despite this, things can change in a span of a few hours quite dramatically and Aikman doesn't rule out any possibility. But for now, he is a thorough professional, who is focussed on coaching Pakistan.

A coach in every true sense of the word, he noticed each and every team play, including hosts India. Overall he didn't seem to find much wrong that the Indian team did, but small errors that cost them dear in the end.

"There is no doubt that the Indians are the fittest in the world, but where they probably lose out is when they have to switch from attack to defence. A lot of top teams play one-touch or two-touch hockey, and that accelerates the speed of the game. In this case, the Indian team doesn't have enough time to get into a proper formation.

"When the Indians attack, they try to go for more passes, and that allows the opposition to get into proper positions. From there, if they lose the ball, you're in a bad position already. I've seen it so many times, that they receive the balls in between the legs or near the legs. That means you cannot accelerate, you cannot look up. If you look at western teams, they always scan for a pass and as soon as the pass can be played they play the ball," Aikman explained.

All this is something he termed as an Asian problem, having seen Pakistan with close quarters. In the broad sense of his opinion, we focus only on the attack, while no one likes to defend. Whereas, the need for modern hockey is to be efficient in both areas, something he saw in the Dutch team. "Asian Hockey lacks because they only attack and defending is not common, nobody likes it. The coaches also don’t practice defending skills. If you look at all the teams, they defend to attack. It simply means they are good in turnovers, and they organise their defence in such a way that a counter-attack is around the corner. For instance, the Dutch attackers, all are very good defenders, the Australians are very good defenders, and the Germans are good defenders, as they win many balls. The Asian attackers go full throttle and then take a rest."

Still, he makes sure to point out that India played well in the classification matches and in fact, prior to that as well. Aikman looks at Reid's stint as a highly successful one, but also the one where the other teams read India well in what turned out to be his last tournament. "I think you look at his results, he did well. He’s one of the most successful Indian coaches. In this World Cup, everyone wanted a podium finish at least since he managed to take the team to an Olympics bronze. But the other teams had done their homework as well," Aikman concluded.

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